I have a nephew who's never seen Israel. I have young cousins, and friends and children of friends, who have never been here, but who have long wanted to come visit.
I want them to come soon. Before it's all gone.
The Israel I want them to see is dying by the day.
It's the Israel I saw when I myself once came to visit. A place which had a calm but breathtaking belief in a better future. A place that still had a shot at just that. It was this Israel that convinced me to stay.
This is this Israel that this government, and this parliament, has decided, once and for all, to finish off, precept by democratic precept. As they see it, the sooner, the quieter, and the more permanently, the better.
My nephew is going to have to hurry.
I want him to see what's left of a place of quietly extraordinary people who dreamed of decency and peace, who envisioned making a place in the world where both we and our immediate neighbors could live together: no longer hated, no longer hating.
It was a place where there was an overriding belief that democracy was sacred, that minority rights should be respected more and more, rather than less and ultimately not at all.
This was the place I came to so many years ago, unfamiliar with its rude clamor and its face-slap smells, the directness of its language and its unfamiliar concepts of personal space.
Foreign. It was a place that believed that affordable housing and quality health care and reasonable living costs and reliable employment should be available to the poor as well as the well-off, to the elderly and infirm and the pre-existing condition, to the Arab as well as the Jew.
I want my nephew to know that there was once a place that his great-grandparents, believers in social justice who had been anarchists in Bialystok and became anarchists in Boyle Heights, could take pride in.
I want him to see it before they kill it. Kill it with settlements. Kill it with privatization and Social Darwinism and the lie they call the free market. Shred by shred, what is good is being drained away, voted away, diluted away in secret, or torn away by force.
Every morning we wake to it. Dreading it. Every morning, a new abomination, an obscene policy proposal, a rabbinical outrage, new plans to expel Palestinians from homes in Jerusalem, new plans to drive Bedouin from homes in the Negev, new steps taken to insult the United States, new ways of threatening a free press, new permits to expand settlements, an endless stream of opaquely worded legislative assaults on democracy, from ravenous middle and back-bench politicians on the make.
Last week, as Israel marked the watershed of the assassination of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, I was thinking about the place this could have been. The Israel, for example, that was the promise of the Rabin government.
A government that related seriously to the needs of Israeli Arabs. A government that more than doubled the education budget for all Israeli children. A government that fostered construction of thousands of homes for young couples and families within Israel, that invested millions in depressed outlying towns rather than new settlements, that dramatically expanded ties with the Muslim world, and with developing nations.
I want my nephew to meet my heroes, the people who have made it through wars and tragedy and this government and who still believe in that Israel whose future is one of social justice and peace.
I want my nephew to know that most Israelis believe that settlements do little other than ruin their lives, stain their country, and block the way to peace.
I want my nephew to see that people here have let down their guard and have let the people in power run and ruin their lives. When scouts in the Book of Numbers called this a land that eats away at its inhabitants (13:32), they knew what they were talking about.
I want my nephew to meet my heroes, the people who still believe in the Israel that can endure. Not one big ghetto of a doomed settlement, but one modest jewel of a country. People who hope for good, people who see all people as deserving of respect, safety and freedom, are heroes. And, for the time being at least, they're still here.
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